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Mongolians go to polls amid gloom of a slumping economy

Mongolians vote amid a gloomy atmosphere brought on by an economy in sharp decline. The slumping demand for commodities in China, and around the globe, has hit the country's mineral rich economy hard.

When Mongolians vote on Wednesday to elect a new national government, it will be with the country's economy on their minds.

Mongolia's economy that was zooming ahead at 17.5 percent in 2011, had slowed to a virtual trickle by 2015, growing just 2.3 percent. The International Monetary Fund has predicted 0.4 percent growth in 2016.

The global slump in commodities has hit Mongolia's economy especially hard - its mining sector, which includes coal, copper and other minerals, is crucial to the country's economic growth.

Mongolei Parlamentswahlen Kanditaten

Democratic Party candidates closed election campaigning on Tuesday

The lack of a compelling solution to the country's economic malaise is only adding to the election day gloom.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP), known as the State Great Kurhal, could lose the parliamentary elections to the opposition Mongolian People's Party.

There are no clear remedies for what is ailing Mongolia's economy, and young people's disillusionment with the country's political class is growing.

Wednesday's elections mark the seventh parliamentary election since the country peacefully transitioned to democracy in 1990, with voter turnout at 98 percent in that first free election.

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently dubbed the country "an oasis of democracy," but voter turnout is in steady decline. Only 65 percent went to the polls in 2012, and the number could be less this year.

Election boycott

Amgalan Sukh-Ochir, 30, who works in marketing, said he plans to boycott the elections.

"In the last elections the DP made all these great promises for prospering," he said. "I decided to support them, but look where we are now. I don't think they've achieved much."

Arial view of the massive Baganuur coal mine in Mongolia.

Mongolia's Baganuur coal mine

In addition to mining, the economy is also driven by animal herding. But weak domestic demand and a sharp decline in exports have impoverished thousands of former herders who had moved to Mongolia's few cities looking for jobs.

About 20 percent of the country's 3 million inhabitants live in poverty. Political parties have argued over the best way to create new jobs in the country.

"The main issue is, No. 1, to revive the economy," said Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, secretary of the opposition Mongolian People's Party. She said the party aims to build 100 factories in 21 provinces that would create about 40,000 new jobs, though she didn't say how.

The ruling DP recently offered citizens 300,000 tugriks (140 euros, $155,) to sell 30 percent of their promised shares in the state-owned coal mine, Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi.

So far 1.2 million of 1.65 million shareholders have applied to sell their shares to the government.

"I think it's illegal to tell you the truth," said Khurelbaatar of the opposition party. "This is right before elections. It seems to all political parties that they're actually trying to buy off votes."

The elections' results are expected Thursday.

bik/sms (AP, dpa)

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